All in the family: Parent-child, coach-player dynamic an emotional, gratifying ride

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Prior to speaking with the media following Friday’s regional quarterfinal clincher against Rockwall, Plano Senior head baseball coach Rick Robertson had one other piece of business to tend to.

The coach pulled in his starting shortstop, and son, senior Ryan Robertson for a celebratory hug and photo.

All good things come to an end and it’ll definitely be hard for us. I’ve looked forward to these four years and the end has come too fast.”

Those are cherished moments shared between the two. After all, there will only be so many more opportunities like that as Ryan’s high school career winds down at the end of the season.

Whenever that last game comes, both coach Robertson and his son admit it’s going to be an emotional sendoff. They’re prepared for the moment, though – just as the two were prepared for what awaited four years ago when Ryan was in the midst of his first time ever playing for his dad as a head coach.

“This is really something that we’ve talked about all his life,” coach Robertson said. “He’s been with me in the dugout for so long, listening and hearing me talk to players and even at times, disciplining players. He’s known what this was like for a very long time.”

The two share a special bond that few in high school sports get to relish – being a parent who coaches his or her child at the varsity level.

There are similar instances throughout Plano’s history, including Plano head football coach Jaydon McCullough and Tex McCullough, former Plano head football coach Gerald Brence and Beau Brence, Plano West head football coach Mike Hughes and Brock Hughes, West head golf coach Rick Hardison and Cody Hardison and former Plano head boys basketball coach Phil Parlin and Clayton Parlin.

Like most parent-child, coach-player duos, Rick and Ryan Robertson’s roots in their respective sport run deep.

Ryan and his father have been inseparable on the baseball diamond ever since the shortstop’s youth, when coach Robertson was still in the midst of his tenure at South Garland.

“Growing up with my dad, I was always at the fieldhouse,” Ryan said. “He coached and that was his life. I would always go up there with him and hang out with his team. Forever, I thought I would be a South Garland Colonel, because that was where he coached at.”

Ryan was anything but a spectator, chipping in however he could during practices while even getting in some reps of his own.

“From the beginning, he was up there taking hacks a lot of the time,” coach Robertson said. “I’ve got pictures of him up there swinging the bat and playing around in the infield. He also had his favorite players that he would hang around with and they’d play ball with him and pitch to him.”

Those days spent on the diamond at South helped craft Ryan’s vision of the game, one which manifested at that very level when his high school career began shortly after moving to Plano when his father became the Wildcats’ head coach in 2007.

The two knew early into the process that as long as his father continued to coach at the high school level, the day would come that Ryan would eventually play for him. At the tail end of his freshman year on junior varsity, that moment became a reality after coach Robertson called his son up to varsity for the 2009 playoffs.

“It was a little weird, but it was also a happy, proud moment for me and him,” Ryan said. “A lot of people ask if it’s weird playing for your dad and it really isn’t, because I started at a young age and he was right there in the dugout with me.”

“It was really special. He played JV as a freshman and did really well,” coach Robertson added. “When it came time for the playoffs, we brought him and (Plano senior) Connor Brady up and they were courtesy runners on that team that went to the regional semifinals.”

Sure enough, Ryan got his chance to work the base paths – maybe a bit too well at times for his father’s liking.

“I remember one play in particularly against Southlake, their catcher blocked the ball out in front and Ryan was running at second base,” coach Robertson said. “We always teach that if there’s a ball in the dirt to be ready to move. The kid blocked the ball and I didn’t think anything of it, but then I look up and here’s Ryan running right toward me. I’m thinking, ‘Oh crap, you better not get thrown out.’

“He slides in safe and that was a good heads up play. That’s why he was moved up.”

In the three years that have followed, Ryan has been entrenched as Plano’s starting shortstop, while his father endures as unique a four-year stretch as any he’ll experience as a coach.

“I’ve been told by a lot of guys how much I’ve mellowed out over the years and I’ve probably mellowed a lot more over the last four years,” coach Robertson said. “I probably watch the way I do things more, which is probably good for me.”

He’s spent more than three years walking the various fine lines that come with coaching one’s child. Tasked everyday with learning how to separate the barrier between parent and coach, assuring no preferential treatment comes into play during games or practice, managing aspects like discipline and expectations while also keeping team objectives at the forefront, it’s not an easy undertaking for either the coach or the player.

“Some days, it’s tough,” coach Robertson said. “We all have our good days and our bad ones. I think we’ve done well with it. Mom at home probably has more time with it than anyone and hears both sides of it.

“… I’ve always tried to leave everything [with baseball on the field]. When I talk to [Ryan] about baseball, I do my best to talk about it here (on the field) and not take anything home. I try to be a good parent at home, which of course can be difficult sometimes. I try to be dad at home and coach up here.”

“He definitely leaves it on the field,” Ryan added. “On the field, he’s definitely a coach. He tries to coach me the best that he can and I listen, being both a son and a player.”

Off the field, Ryan isn’t being constantly inundated in talk about strategy or post-game reflections on what he could have done better. If any discussion of sports comes up, it’s about anything from basketball to football or even a little baseball.

On the field, Ryan feels that playing for his father has helped make him grow as a leader, knowing plenty well what coach Robertson expects out of his players.

The benefits are mutual on that front. Although the last four years have featured its share of hurdles, it’s an experience coach Robertson thinks will make him stronger as a coach.

It also makes moments like Friday’s celebratory post-game hug all the more rewarding. There have been plenty of instances like that between the two over the years, be in the form of a big hit or play by Ryan, or when coach Robertson watched his son commit to play college baseball at Paris Junior College.

“I remember when he was a sophomore and he had a bases-loaded double against Flower Mound that really put the game away for us…that stuff is big,” coach Robertson said. “You’re so proud for him and to get an opportunity to go to the next level, that’s big.”

Both admit it’ll be strange in the coming years when Ryan has to look to the stands instead of the dugout to see his father.

That moment is creeping closer with each passing day, as the reality sets in that sometime between Friday and June 7, Ryan’s high school baseball career will be over.

It won’t be an easy moment for either him or coach Robertson, but it’s one they’ve known would happen ever since Ryan was just a child fielding ground balls during South Garland baseball practice.

“If that last game is a win for a state title, there will be a lot of happiness,” Ryan said. “All good things come to an end and it’ll definitely be hard for us. I’ve looked forward to these four years and the end has come too fast.”

“Whenever it comes to an end, I hope it’s after six more wins,” coach Robertson added. “Whenever that ends, it’s going to be very emotional, I’m sure.”